The New Year holiday in Japan is a big deal. Sort of like Christmas in North America. It’s the holiday where families get together and everyone sends cards to each other and everything is closed.
New Year’s Eve is called omisoka (大晦日) in Japanese. I wanted my New Year’s Eve to be pretty typically Japanese, so I headed out to get some last-minute osechi. Osechi are traditional Japanese New Year foods — originally they were made so that cooking wasn’t required for the first couple days of the new year, so they are mostly pickled/preserved foods. All of the foods have a meaning (you can read about some of them on the Wikipedia page) and they’re usually packed up nicely in a jubako (kind of like a fancy bento box).
I think that a lot of Japanese people still make osechi, but judging from the TOTALLY INSANE crowds at the Seibu department store where I got mine, a lot of people buy them too. They’re fairly expensive: I’d say the price averages around $100-200 a box. (I bought a small one for about $50 though.)
Necessary New Year’s ingredients: osechi and Veuve Clicquot.
Real Japanese people who do not buy their osechi from a department store have fancier jubako than this.
The little pink flowers were made of mochi.
Our nice downstairs neighbours invited us over for some New Year’s Eve food. CRAB! (You know how I feel about crab.)
I guess I didn’t need to buy osechi, since she made osechi.
More New Year food!
A squid and carrot salad — yum!
We also had sukiyaki, which is a sort of Japanese hot pot with vegetables, tofu, and meat. (I assume most North Americans only know of sukiyaki because of the Kyu Sakamoto hit, which actually has nothing to do with the food. FUN FACT: That song is still the ONLY Japanese song to ever make the Billboard Top 100. ANOTHER FUN FACT: I know all the words to that song because I had to sing it in my high school Japanese class. I still can’t whistle, though. YET A THIRD FACT THAT’S NOT SO FUN: Kyu Sakamoto died in 1985 in what remains the world’s deadliest single-aircraft crash, JAL flight 123 from Haneda Airport in Tokyo. I was at Haneda Airport yesterday, so that’s weird.) But anyway, songs about walking and crying aside, sukiyaki is delicious.
This sounds gross, but you dip the sukiyaki meat in raw egg before you eat it. Sounds gross but TASTES AMAZING. I’m not really a fan of eggs most days, and especially not runny or raw eggs. BUT! It is so good. Really.
Here’s a picture of Mike with a cute Japanese baby.
After eating all of my neighbour’s food, I went back home to watch the second half of Kohaku. You might remember my entry about watching it last year and hanging out at NHK Hall. (Last year there was a huge, weird nationalist/anti-Korean protest outside NHK Hall, but I’ll assume that didn’t happen this year since all Korean artists mysteriously vanished from the Kohaku lineup this year.) For the first and probably only time in my life, I was able to vote for my beloved akagumi (the red team, made up of all the female artists) using my Japanese cell phone. Sadly for me, shirogumi (the white/male team) won this year.
As Kohaku was winding down, I made some toshikoshi soba. Toshikoshi soba is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve and means “year-crossing noodles.” I don’t think it really matters how you eat them, as long as they’re noodles (they don’t even have to be soba) and they’re long. If you want a recipe for toshikoshi soba, Shirley has one that looks far better than mine on her blog.
Another thing that Japanese people often do on New Year’s Eve is head to a shrine after midnight for hatsumode, or the first shrine visit of the year. I went to Meiji Jingu last year for it and that was probably enough for one lifetime. But I did make a wish while I was there: to come back to Japan. And look, it came true!